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Is it safe to camp at Walmart? 

| Updated May 15, 2024

This week on the RV Podcast:

  • Walmart camping: Is it safe to camp at Walmart?
  • Do sway bars really help with towing?
  • Are YouTube influencers ruining our National Parks?
  • All this, plus the RV News of the Week and your questions coming up in Episode #497 of the RV Podcast

You can watch the video version from our RV Lifestyle YouTube Channel by clicking the player below.

If you prefer an audio-only podcast, you can hear us through your favorite podcast app or listen now through the player below. And if you want to read the entire transcript of the podcast – click the CC on the player!

Gathering at the Gulf – Oct. 8-11, Navarre, FL.

Is it safe to camp at Walmart?  1

Announcing the RV Lifestyle “Gathering At the Gulf,” our fall meetup on the crystal clear waters of Florida’s fabled Emerald Coast, held at an upscale RV resort right on the shore of Santa Rosa Sound in beautiful Navarre, FL.

Imagine mile after mile of pristine, white sparking beaches and crisp Emerald-colored water. Smell the warm salt air. Feel the ever-so-gentle breeze following off the Gulf and hear the gentle purr of the waves swishing against the shore.

The location is in the Florida Panhandle, halfway between Fort Walton Beach and Pensacola. Navarre Beach is our entry to the National Island National Seashore. It is a place of unspoiled natural beauty that truly stands apart. It is the longest stretch of federally protected seashore in the United States that runs for 160 miles from east to west.

We will be camping just minutes from this breathtaking spot in the luxurious Santa Rosa Waterfront RV Resort located right on the bay and just minutes from the pristine sandy beaches.

October is Florida’s most beautiful time of the year. Gone is the humidity of summer. The days are comfortably warm, the nights pleasantly cool. 

Sign up and get more info now at https://rvlifestyle.com/fall24

SOCIAL MEDIA BUZZ – Wendy Bowyer

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Wendy Bowyer reports on the hot issues most talked about this past week on social media and our RV Lifestyle Community group.

In the RVLifestyle Community‘s Troubleshooting Space, Jon asked if sway bars would help control his trailer  with high winds. Recently he white-knuckled it all the way home in 30 MPH winds and did not want to repeat that experience, so he asked about options.

Bob and Roxy told Jon they have used a Reese Strait Line active sway control and weight distribution kit on their travel trailer and it helped a lot.

Randall said his family has learned sway bars on a travel trailer is a must. 

And Ari and Jesse said they have a Blue Ox weight distribution hitch with sway bars and they often don't even know their 30-foot Airstream is behind them – even on windy days and even with big trucks passing.

So I think Jon got his answer!

Meanwhile, in the General Discussions Space, Traci was on a road trip and was going to stop at a Buc-ee's for the first time, so she asked the group: “Hit me with all the things I should not miss.”

Boy, did she get lots of suggestions! The brisket sandwich came up several times, as did the beaver nuggets. Others said root beer from the soda fountain is very good. Some just said the whole place is an experience be it the clean restrooms, good fuel prices, clothes, gifts, and every kind of food imaginable. Traci ended up posting a picture of herself and said she bought a brisket egg taco and gave it a 10 out of 10.

Meanwhile, over in our RVLifestyle Facebook Group,  Justin asked: What is something you would not have learned if it wasn't for RV life?

More than 500 comments and some were quite thought-provoking. Here is a small sampling.

Suzanne said she learned just how little stuff or clothing you really need.

John learned his tolerance for dealing with sewage is a lot higher than he thought!

Alberto said he learned how to become a handyman, be it plumbing, electric, carpentry, basic mechanic skills.

And for Greg, one thing RVing taught him is how absolutely beautiful our country is, from coast to coast, and how fortunate we are to live in it.

RV TOPIC OF THE WEEK : Is it safe to overnight camp at Walmart?

The Truth About Crime in Walmart Parking Lots camp at Walmart

This week, for our topic of the week, we are going to talk all things Walmart.

Why do people overnight at a Walmart? How did this come to be?

Is it still safe to overnight at a Walmart with the rise in homelessness and other issues across the country?

Are Walmarts cracking down on people overnighting?

Is there a proper way to do this?

We hear a lot of conversations in our RV Lifestyle Communities asking if it is safe to overnight in a Walmart parking lot and we always tell people generally it is, but it is important to be safety aware.

So to start this conversation off, fresh in the news this week is the story of a man barricading himself in his RV at a Walmart and Sam's Club parking lot in Reno, Nevada, the other day.

Police arrived around 9 am for a domestic disturbance call, and before long the SWAT team was there spending HOURS trying to get this man out. 

Police said the man, who told them he had a gun, had a felony warrant for possession of a controlled substance, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, failing to appear, and escape. When police removed him he was taken to a hospital under suspicion of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

When you look at the video of this whole thing, the RV is parked under a light, back a ways, like you would if you were overnighting, though I could find no report saying whether he was – or wasn't.

I share this with you as a reminder to be ultra-aware of who may be next to you and what an area is like should you decide to overnight at a Walmart parking lot. And also to kick off this topic with proof that the question of Walmart safety is indeed very relevant.

Staying at a Walmart parking lot is kind of a right of passage for many RVers and is something people write to us about all the time. Just recently in our Facebook group one of our members shared this picture of a Walmart parking lot near Page, Arizona.

CHECK THIS OUT: https://www.facebook.com/groups/roadtreking/posts/2735295296629432

That post is from Matthew and he wrote: “Holy crap half the parking lot was full of RV's overnighting.” For those listening, this picture looks like a parking lot full of RVs of every type, parked under the bright parking lot lights.

Of course it is not always quite this busy.

Why overnight camp at a Walmart/ How did this begin?

Sam Walton, Walmart’s founder, was an RVer and really enjoyed the travelers he met on the road so he made it so campers could stay free overnight in the parking lot where feasible.

Walmart’s official RV policy says: “While we do not offer electrical service or accommodations typically necessary for RV customers, Walmart values RV travelers and considers them among our best customers. Consequently, we do permit RV parking on our store parking lots as we are able. Permission to park is extended by individual store managers, based on availability of parking space and local laws. Please contact management in each store to ensure accommodations before parking your RV.”

Is it still safe to Camp at a Walmart overnight?

One thing we have wondered lately is if Walmart parking lots are still as safe today as they were when we first started out RVing. A lot has changed in the country in the past few years.

Shoplifting has become a much bigger issue inside the stores. We remember a story with the CEO of Walmart talking about shoplifting rising to its historically highest level ever – and that was nearly two years ago. Story here

We recently saw a report that homelessness is up 12 percent in the country to its highest reported level. (More stats here if you want to dig in)

And in some places around the country, we see news reports of people addicted to drugs, living in run-down RVs, squatting in various places – here and here, and I think we kid ourselves if we think that doesn’t spill into some Walmart parking lots at various places across the country.

And police departments have also reported many crimes in Walmart parking lots. While most are things like theft, there are also other crimes like assault, armed robbery, rape, and murder. Many of these crimes occur in Walmart parking lots, (this is from our previous story but I don’t see any stats)

I am curious about what is happening in the parking lots. We did some digging, and it is actually not easy to find crime reports nationally focused just on Walmart parking lots. But when you do a Google search, a lot does come up.

Recently we asked our RVLifestyle Community if anyone had been a victim of a crime or knew of someone who had been a victim of a crime while overnighting at a Walmart parking lot. By far the majority of those who responded said they were fine.

But some had stories that were downright frightening.

  • Story out of New Hampshire last year- a couple in van. Someone knocked on their door just before midnight, woke them up. The man answered the door and this deranged man started beating him mercilessly. The RVer died. Girlfriend locked herself in the van and called police, watching her boyfriend die before her. Was horrific. Story here
  • Another member of the group overnighted at a Walmart in Montana. Woke up and there was this note on their RV under the passenger window side with $10 cash- They didn’t notice it until they were on the road, but apparently this is a way to steal an RV. You start the RV, get ready to drive off, see this note and the cash, get out to remove it from the windshield, and when you step out, someone steps in and drives off with your rig. Typically, the thieves are right nearby, watching, waiting to ambush you and steal … The note with the $10 said, “Send me the receipt” – 
  • Another person told the story of a car pulling up next to them at 2 am with big boom speakers blaring, waking them up. The member could see four guys in this car, but they never got out. Just parked there blaring this music. He sat up with his 45, waiting to see if they did anything. After a half an hour they drove away.
  • Others have reported that parking lots in some places just don’t feel as safe as alternatives like Cracker Barrel or a Casino.

It is important to share that most people have not had any problems with Walmart. But I do think a lot really depends on where you are in the country. It is always very important to be aware.

Are Walmarts cracking down on camping in their parking lot?

Is it safe to camp at Walmart?  3

While Walmart’s official policy is very welcoming to RVers, some towns do make it illegal for RVers to overnight. You always have to check to see what the local ordinances are and check before deciding to stay if you want to avoid that knock on the window in the middle of the night.

Some towns pass local ordinances to prohibit RVers from sleeping in their rig in the Walmart parking lot. And some Walmarts are taking steps to keep RVers out.

One of our Facebook members recently told us about a Walmart in Arkansas, about an hour north of Little Rock, that installed “low clearance” fixtures – with no height given – at every entrance to their parking lot. He shared it with the group and the consensus was the low clearance fixtures were to keep RVers out.

Many members of our group started sharing other Walmart parking lots they encountered with similar low clearance features at the parking lot entrance. Some locations were: Sullivan MO,  Oklahoma City, and a few places in Missouri and Scranton Wilkes-Barre PA.

Those sorts of measures certainly send a message to RVers. And if we want to keep being able to stay in Walmarts from time to time, the RVing community really needs to practice basic courtesy.

How to camp at a Walmart the right way

First look ahead and make sure the Walmart allows RVers to spend the night. There are many apps that will tell you, and there is even one website that is completely devoted to sharing where Rvers can stay in a Walmart – and where they can not.

 See this site: https://www.walmartlocator.com/walmart-map/

Then when you get there, check with the manager, make sure it is permitted.

When you go in the store, buy something. It is a Walmart, you should be able to find something you need be it groceries or some small thing. Since they are permitting you to sleep in their parking lot, it is only right you buy something inside.

When you park, don’t take the prime parking spot right next to the front door. You want to be courteous and practice good etiquette while at the same time parking strategically for safety. Maybe choose a spot near lights and away from back alleys. And park in a way so you take up as little space as possible.

Don’t set up camp. Remember you are a guest in a parking lot – and are not paying to be in a campground. That means don’t bring out the grill, don’t set up the lawn chairs. In fact, I would even say don’t extend the slides if you can help it. You are just there to get a little rest before you continue on the next day.

We would also suggest arriving late and leaving early. Remember you are staying at a business, and you want to respect that. So common courtesy is to not interfere with prime business hours.

And even in a relatively safe community make sure you lock all doors and windows. We would also recommend closing all blinds and shades.

Never open the door to a stranger, if someone knocks on your door in the middle of the night and be ready to trust your gut and just leave if something doesn’t feel right.

And despite all we shared here, we really do think it is fine to stay in a Walmart. It is almost a right of passage.

BONUS POSTS:

RV NEWS OF THE WEEK

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The Baby Boomers are back! Greater percentage of first time campers in this age group

The Baby Boomers are back, baby!

The Baby Boomer Generation was 26 percent of all campers in 2023. And among all new campers, Baby Boomers made up 22 percent. That's a number not seen in years.

Kampgrounds of America commissions a report each year that takes a deep dive into camping trends, and then KOA's president and CEO presents at an industry breakfast in Elkhart, just around the corner from our sticks and bricks.

The big headline this year is Baby Boomers are a big part of camping demographics and the industry needs to shift some attention back to this important segment of campers.

KOA attributes the rise in Boomers to the pandemic. Baby Boomers were a huge percentage of campers before the pandemic – it dropped during the Covid years, with many staying home – and now it is back up.

Millennials, who were rising, made up a smaller percentage of campers in 2023.

Other interesting tidbits:

– Most new campers earned less than $100,000 a year

– Most were from rural or suburban areas

– Most (64 percent) do not have children

– Most are from diverse backgrounds

To read more, check out the report from our friends at RVBusiness here.

Are social media influencers ruining our national parks?

Remember that idiotic Social Media influencer who decided to record herself hitting a golf ball into the Grand Canyon for 7 million of her TikTok followers in 2022?

The park's staff posted an image of her pounding the ball into the magnificent canyon's walls on their Facebook Page saying: “Do we really need to say, ‘don’t hit golf balls into the Grand Canyon?’”

Thankfully the influencer, Katie Sigmond, was fined. I remember telling you about this in our newsletter, wondering just how stupid could people be?

I mention this story because of an interesting article I recently came across studying the good – and the bad – caused to our national park from social media.

The park service has flip-flopped on how they want Influencers to register to record and post in the national parks. It is a long story, but we stopped recording at the parks some years back because of the red tape, and now it sounds like that may ease up. We shall see.

Obviously, sharing the park's beauty and pure majesty, as our videos attempted to do, can benefit the park by inspiring a visit, sharing it with others who can't get there, and cultivating a passion for our national treasures.

But the downside is influencers who do stunts in the parks to draw attention to themselves and get clicks, often inspiring copycats. To see the report, click here.

To see our story on the best national park for wildlife viewing, click here.

70 tornadoes – at least – touch down in one wild week

Were you, like Jen and I, watching in disbelief as day after day of tornadoes and horrible weather swept across our country last week? 

Last we checked, there were 70 reported tornadoes in at least 15 states, and numerous other states reported damage from high winds, heavy rains, and hail in what was just a wild weather week.

Tragically, some died in the the 70 tornadoes, many were injured, and many structures flattened. 

Just the hail alone was unbelievable. Johnson City, Texas, reported 6.5 inch hail! Can you believe it? A weather station said it was the second-largest reported hailstone in that state's history.

Near us, in southwest Michigan, there were three tornadoes – two touching down just about a mile away. Our in-law-daughter, who is a school teacher, had several days off work as the community recovered..

Sadly many campgrounds were also in these storms. The Hickory Woods Campground in Brookville, Indiana area was hit hard, many RVs destroyed. About 20 people took shelter in the supply closet between the campground bathrooms, built of cinder blocks, for safety.

In Colorado, five RVs were knocked over by the high winds in Cheyenne Mountain State Park, and we are sure there were other incidents around the country. 

To learn more about what to do should a tornado warning be issued while you are RVing, check out our story here.

RV QUESTION OF THE WEEK

QUESTION: I'd like to hear from Jennifer. What's your favorite thing about RVing and what's your least favorite?”

ANSWER: Oh, my favorite thing I think dreaming and thinking about a trip, you think how much fun it's going to be, where you want to go, and what you're going to see along the way.

The adventure of it. I like to dream about how much fun it's going to be to get away and to do that. I get restless if I'm home too long and the bad part is it goes right with it is packing, trying to think of everything you need and not taking too much, but just the right amount.

And planning meals, I like to do that. I'm doing that much more now thinking, okay, what are we going to eat this day, this day, this day.

And then of course the flip side, when you get home, you have to unpack all of that. But then usually we've got our system down now, soon as we get home, we like to get home, not too late, we just bring everything in.

And I've been known to have a couple of loads of laundry done before we go to bed, and I have to vacuum the dog hair. But as soon as I get the RV clean and ready to go again, I'm ready to go. And I never put that off. That gets done just a couple of days after we get home because it's just too much work after cleaning the thing and packing. I want it clean and ready to go. Plus you never know who's going to stop by and want to see it.

Storytime with Mike and Jen

This week we told the story of the times we ended up in emergency rooms for hospital stays. Notice we said times.

Jen got bacterial pneumonia and had to be hospitalized for several days in Red Lodge., MT..

Mike had a gall blader attack and had to have emergency surgery to remove at the Mayo Hospital in Rochester, MN.

Oh yeah, there’s the time Jen broke at an RV Show in Arizona her arm when a folding chair came down too hard and just right. But that was just soft cast and she was treated and released.

The message of both is… there’s always emergency help available… even in remote spots like Red Lodge Montana and at the Mayo Clinic, one of the world’s most prestigious hospitals. Listen or watch the podcast in the player above for the whole story.

Happy Trails.

We're OVER 12,200 members in our NEW Community!

Is it safe to camp at Walmart?  5

We have a Space for all sorts of things you want to know as an RVer, including Travel Planning, Electrical, Plumbing, Traveling with Pets, Gear, and more.

You can join each Space individually and only see what's being discussed in just that Space. Or you can see everything in the main Feed.

You can watch livestreams that are focused on one Space or another – like we recently did for Internet on the Road!

It's a calm, well-organized, friendly space to meet other RVers who might be traveling near you!

Join us https://community.rvlifestyle.com

Mike Wendland

Published on 2024-05-15

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “Is it safe to camp at Walmart? ”

May 15, 2024at7:08 pm, Darlene Barrailler said:

I worked as a homeless outreach volunteer in Colorado. Every evening we would deliver food, blankets, socks, toiletries etc to the homeless population in our city. This frequently meant checking out the Walmart parking lots. We had 2 Walmarts and there were usually 4-8 cars, vans or RVs staying on the outskirts of the parking lots. Oftentimes our clients have severe mental illness, addictions or felony convictions. So yes, it is important to know who is parked beside you! Our town had a population of 75,000.

Reply

May 17, 2024at9:13 am, Team RV Lifestyle said:

Thank you for sharing this information, Darlene! Team RV Lifestyle

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